The T-72B3-2016 or its loosely known nicknames, aliases, etc. al. is one of Russia’s latest attempts of upgrading the venerable T-72 series, an icon of the former Cold War. This took the lessons learned from previous upgrades and improved upon it with newer subsystems and increased DRI capabilities, as well as protection and lethality efforts. This upgrade is likely to serve the Russian Army well into the next decade and afford the Russian Army a capable, yet affordable platform for its security needs. The focus on this evolution of the series will be divided into three main categories; survivability, communications and lethality. The Russian Army also elected to focus on these three main categories due to their assessment of the current and future security situation. The operational environment that the Russian Army executes in, requires them to possess a low cost, relative affordable and sustainable general purpose main battle tank, which can be employed throughout the full spectrum of operations. As a side note and for clarification purposes, the Russians are likely to upgrade the entirety of their T-72 fleet and formulate a commonality program in which all variants will be brought up to a single standard. For the purpose of clarity, this review will focus on that and not on specific material solution models used for demonstration purposes.
Program Vision and Overview
The T-72B3-2016 will continue to serve the Russian Army as a general purpose main battle tank for decades to come. As it stands today, the T–72B3-2016 will be augmented with a new tank, designed to operate against a potential enemy’s most decisive threat. That tank, which is in the Initial Entry Phase, is known as the T–14 Armata, which may be covered in another article. The T-72B3-2016 program is designed to restore relevance and capability to an antiquated tank design, in an affordable manner. As a case in point, to upgrade a single T-72B3 to this latest standard, it will cost roughly 79 million rubles per copy. A single new T-14 will cost north of 350 million per copy. Further, the program is intended to take advantage of institutional knowledge gained from several decades of the platform being in active service and leverage that for a rapid and seamless transition. The program aims to achieve this via its ability to deliver decisive lethal effects and accurate fires and employ enhanced situational awareness and target acquisition as an element of an integrated combined arms team.
Since the vehicle and variants remain in widespread global service, it is assessed that the tank design will continue to see future growth. A primary reason for this is because upgrade requirements are drafted in a manner that requires industry to offer solutions fitting the design specifications of the platform as well as within industrial and material capabilities. This to a degree, may limit future growth and newer design concepts, but also does not restrict the possibilities of future technologies, as seen with past and future upgrades* now under way. Lastly, the platform also affords the Russian Army sustainable operations and fielding, since continued growth and need for affordable and reliable end item components, sub components as well as qualified and trained personnel, thus securing the critical lynchpin of any force; logistical sustainment.
The design is capable of being deployed and transported by rail, sea, waterway and road modes of transportation. It is designed to be survivable against most modern and some emerging threats that the Russian Army may face. As stated above, the T-72B3-2016, will serve as the general purpose tank of the ground forces of the Russian Army. Despite not being ideally suited for direct action combat against a peer threat, the design and variant has had significant attention paid to its lethality and its survivability, as well as the vehicle’s ability to conduct rapid operations through its upgraded and enhanced engine, delivering nearly 30% more power and torque without excessive loss of fuel or operational range. This power improvement also may afford future upgrades to the tank which may include next generation APS systems or 5th generation operational concepts*.
The vehicle possess upgraded digital automotive functions which help prepare tank crews by conducting collective training, mission preparation and execution to facilitate tactical employment. The T-72B3-2016 possesses enhanced situational awareness due to its uprated independent viewer and upgraded communication suite. The tank also received an enhanced fire control system and thermal optics, which increase target acquisition capabilities to near 3rd generation standards. These upgrades allow the tank to orient on threats and deliver lethal direct fires at ranges close to 4km. The tank also possesses advanced 2nd generation+ computerized imagery, enhanced long range DRI capabilities, which are rated at 5km. The T-72B3-2016 will be able to receive and pass information horizontally and vertically within an integrated battlefield system that employs radios and possess additional communication features that allow it to leverage emerging tactical broadband applications, found elsewhere in the Russian Army. Of note, with the increased power associated with the upgrade, the variant may soon possess the ability to control and receive tactical intelligence from unmanned systems and integrate into a more robust battlefield operational network. Further, modernization and improvement efforts to the vehicle have given it the ability to operate a remotely fired crew served weapon, consisting of 12.7mm weapon station and obtain cooperative engagement scenario capabilities. Defensionem assesses that the T-72B3-2016 will provide lethal direct fires against most current and future threats between ranges of 2.5km and 4km with current munitions, subject to battlefield conditions, especially during operations in restricted and uneven terrain.
The tanks employs an improved version of the venerable 2A46M, which is known as the 2A46M5 series 125mm tank cannon. This cannon retains functionality with earlier developed munitions and employs cannon launched anti-tank guided missiles, such as the AT–11 series. Defensionem assesses that the T-72B3-2016, as having equal capabilities to the nations bordering Russian territory and sufficient capabilities to be successfully employed in earnest against more advanced threats, save few. The tank has the ability to employ depleted uranium munitions, and has more capability to do so as a result of an upgraded meteoric and wind sensor, which is part of the upgraded ballistic computer and fire control system installed. These modest upgrades, along with the above mentioned FCS, a variant of the SOSNA–U, afford the tank the ability to reach near parity with regional threats.
The main anti-armor round in use with the Russian T-72B3-16 is the BM60 Svinets–2, a uranium alloy 125mm sabot round with an estimated effective range of 2,000m against most armored threats. It is deemed probable that this round is roughly equal to early series M-829 series sabot rounds formerly employed by the US. Recent efforts with refining metallurgy and propellants have resulted in improved tank fired munitions and increased the relevant span of the lethality envelope. It is assessed that this effort has given a modest increase to lethality and barrel life, without the need to create a new munition design for use. This economical approach seems more to restore a level of parity with potential threats and less so for overmatch. It is further assessed that this is due to the augmentation of cannon fired guided munitions onboard the tank. As a result of this capability, the tank is assessed as having sufficient lethality to be employed tactically and defeat the majority of the expected threats within ranges of 2,000m, less for more advanced threats. The tank also can fire a wide variation of CE rounds, found in existing inventory, thus retaining effectiveness in the direct fire support role for dismounted infantry operations.
Vehicle Vulnerability Analysis
Defensionem assess via use of a fault tree analysis that cover the main subsystems that, if damaged or destroyed, would cause a communication, mobility, lethality, or catastrophic kill. These types of kills are defined below.
The vehicle experiences a communications-kill if it is damaged to the extent that it cannot transmit or receive information by its electronic communication equipment, and the damage is not repairable by the crew on the battlefield within 10 minutes. Due to the T-72B3-2016 employing an integrated communication system that is mounted under ballistic protection, the probability of occurrence is low except in circumstances involving a direct hit. Standard vulnerability to radio antennas are present and any external communication attachments mounted on the turret roof.
The vehicle experiences a mobility-kill if the damage causes the vehicle to be incapable of performing any of the mobility requirements of its assigned mission, and the damage is not repairable by the crew on the battlefield within 20 minutes. The T-72B3-2016 received an upgraded protection scheme with a newer ERA package, titled; Relikt. This upgraded option affords the tank increased protection along the axis and sides of the vehicle and is designed specifically to defeat tandem warhead munitions. In total, survivability features include spaced armor, Slat armor options and ERA to protect against a mobility kill. Probability is rated as low to moderate due to the significant improvement to the protection scheme. Further, specifically designed tracks employed by the vehicle reduce susceptibility to wear and battle damage, affording rapid repair to the vehicle track if it receives damage from enemy munitions.
The vehicle experiences a lethality-kill if the damage causes the vehicle to be incapable of performing any of the lethality requirements of its assigned mission, and the damage is not repairable by the crew on the battlefield within 10 minutes. The T-72B3-2016 retains a 125mm cannon from the previous series and also has a RWS 12.7mm weapon system. Due to the specifically designed turret, featuring small profile and highly shaped ERA wedges, the T-72B3-2016 has a reduced frontal section, compared to most tanks without the loss of significant armor protection. A main hit or near miss in the vicinity of the gun mantle will likely lead to main gun damage and disablement, due to the weaker armor in the immediate area. Probability of a lethality kill for main armament systems occurring is deemed as moderate. Despite Russian Army doctrine of employing hull down positions, concerns still arise over the form of turret power it receives as well as the layered defensive approach adopted. Turret power is provided hydraulically with batteries for extended use. While a lethality kill will occur if the tank batteries are damaged, the design of additional features ensures that mechanical functions can still occur even with battle damage, as does the ability to conduct direct fire operations. The location of the future RWS increases the chances of damage from fragments, small arms fire or a main gun round hitting the turret. Additionally, the RWS is mounted in the rear of the turret, illustrating that the tank does not have blowout panels. Due to the positioning of the RWS, crew protection for reloading and maintaining of the RWS is deemed as low. The probability of the secondary weapons being damaged is deemed moderate to high.
Catastrophic Kill (K-kill)
The vehicle suffers a catastrophic-kill if the damage is so extensive that the vehicle is not economically repairable. Items carried on-board the vehicles whose detonation or ignition could result in catastrophic damage would be items such as ammunition, fuel, oil, fluids, etc. The T-72B3-2016 possesses a comprehensive protection upgrade focusing on improved ERA and slate armor protecting the turret ring and rear. The armor itself remain second generation composite armor encapsulated between steel. Further, the armor forms a baseline protection against long range KE rounds and offers some protection against low to moderate threat hand held antitank munitions.
Added to the baseline protection scheme is a new ERA package, designed upon a modular block system that can be changed out under battlefield conditions. This ERA package affords increased protection against both KE and CE munitions and increases the distance the vehicle can remain relatively safe during direct fire scenarios. The overall turret armor is impacted by an intentional and methodical design that affords the turret to have a smaller profile that reduces detection in optical scenarios, but not with thermal imaging. A draw back of the lower profile turret is a reduction in space and placement of armor, necessitating ERA to augment the vehicle protection scheme. This design also has an internal anti spalling wall, of limited value if penetration occurs. The tank has a single steel wall and special composite armor panels without a reinforced armored plate covering the exterior of the package as an armor package design. Due to the layout of the turret, analysis of the turret weight and chassis, along with additional factors, Defensionem with near certainty, estimates the following; the T-72B3-2016, is estimated to have 500mm of RHA armor over the frontal sections of the turret (against kinetic energy rounds).The vehicle has additional protection afforded to it as a result of the enhanced ERA package, which is estimated to provide an estimated 350-375mm of protection against munitions, with moderate increase in resistance compared to previous packages.
Due to Russia’s considerable focus and investment into anti-missile defense, it is probable that the T-72B3-2016 has improved protection from CE rounds possessed by the majority of its potential adversaries in the region. Due to the operational environment and the heavy investment in long ranged main gun tube launched missiles, improved fire control systems, battlefield management systems and combined arms operations, it is unlikely that the tank will be vulnerable to penetration from KE munitions at medium to long ranged fires from most threats expected to be encountered. This assessment is based off of probable engagement ranges in the area of operation, with a notable exceptions. Simply put, there is a low to moderate chance that the tank will receive a catastrophic kill from another tank, except at close range and from the sides and rear. Defensionem rates the overall chances of a catastrophic kill occurring as moderate, depending on whether or not advanced anti-armor missiles or advance KE munitions are employed successfully against the vehicle. In closing, this upgrade, while not perfect, provides a systematic upgrade that restores relevance at an economical cost. Much can be learned from this and other designs with regards to future platform upgrades and suitability needs.